Over the years, people have baffled over the amount of travel, both international and domestic, that I have managed. The 37+ countries, the 45 States, the months on end in travel, and living in other countries for months at a time all seem to leave them speechless. I’ve had people ask, “How do you do it?”
The Short Answer
I live within my means and budget my life, my finances and my travel carefully — almost obsessively.
The Long Answer
The long answer is what will come out in this blog over the months or years that it remains active.
The Snapshot of a True Budget Travel Life
Today I thought I would give a snapshot of what that life looks like. Some of you will see the things I do and reject the idea and move on, deciding that you wouldn’t want to live this way. That’s fine. This kind of life isn’t for everyone.
In fact, most Americans that I know would never tolerate living as I do. There’s nothing wrong with that. Just don’t be one of those people who complains to me and tells me how jealous you are of all my adventures.
1. I Live Within my Means
This means that I don’t own a fancy car, my apartment is small and simple, my activities calendar does not involve a lot of expensive outings, meals out, and things I don’t need.
2. I Have a Budget and I Stick to It
If I have $300 allocated for food this month, I aim to spend $250, and never spend over $300. I also leave a little wiggle room in the budget overall for things that go up in price unexpectedly or suddenly need replacement.
3. I Don’t Raise My Budget Just Because I’m Making More at Work
I may not always be in the best of places financially — sometimes the economy sucks and being a freelancer depends on people needing your services — but I also don’t increase my budget when I get out of the rough patches.
The one exception is that I may allow myself something like an additional $10 per month for activities, like going to the theatre for an extra show through Goldstar.
4. I Don’t Focus My Holidays Around Expensive Activities and Gift Giving
The most important gifts are the meaningful ones — and these usually aren’t that expensive. The most heart-felt gifts are given out of knowing a person, not knowing a person’s wish list.
I also apply my budget to this situation and only purchase gifts or supplies for making gifts that fit within that set budget. I also purchase gifts when I travel, and all throughout the year so that my gift spending isn’t all focused in one short time-frame.
5. I Know How to Find Deals
I can find deals on food items, clothing items, travel expenses and more. And I’m not afraid to embrace the thrift shop culture for 95% of my attire. And I shop at Aldi and locally owned grocery stores.
And I compare prices on all brands of an item before I purchase. I’ve saved thousands of dollars each year just by these three things. We’re not even talking travel expenses yet.
6. If I Indulge Myself, I Spend Very Little
Some of you can relate – spending $5 on yourself seems like a luxury! And, for me, it is. And I don’t do this every month even.
7. I Put Everything I REALLY WANT into My Cart and Walk the Whole Store
99% of the time, I talk myself out of buying non-necessities long before I get to the register. This decreases my impulse buys by nearly 100%, and also saves me hundreds, possibly thousands, each year.
8. I Have Expensive Taste, but I Don’t Indulge It Often
I am gluten-free and corn-free (both for health reasons), and I love fine jewelry, fine cheese, the symphony, the theatre and many other “cultured” things that tend to be very expensive.
But I do not allow myself to indulge those desires on the regular. And guess what? When I walk away from that necklace that I can’t afford, that theatre ticket that is just too much in this season, and don’t put on the weight of that extra rich triple-crème brie, I’m not only better off, but I’m just as happy as I was before noticing it in the display. Really.
Since I don’t place my self-worth in things that I own or food that I eat, I feel healthier and happier because I didn’t give into commercialism or my desire to eat fat or sweet things.
9. I Don’t Think I’m Too Good for Things
One of the complaints I’ve heard from people is that they could never tolerate a youth hostel, backpacking, or not eating out for every meal while traveling. These people are the ones who have generally never set foot outside of the country or if they have, they have only had commercialized experiences on tours and boring package trips.
I have only once stayed in a bed and breakfast overseas. I have only eaten out once per location (except when someone else insists on paying), and I backpack everywhere.
10. I Focus on Experiences Rather Than Stuff
As I both spend time living life at home and as I travel, I refrain from purchasing items that may break or collect dust. Instead, I focus my spending on experiences and activities that are rewarding and memorable. These are more satisfying than a “crystal” cube from the Empire State building anyway.
All of these things, and a few others, have allowed me to visit spots on 5 Continents and 45 of the United States in less than 15 years (my entire adult lifetime).